Asphaltene components as organic electronic materials


Much of the world's petroleum resources are in the form of bitumen mixed with sands and clays. These deposits are generally referred to as oil sands. Extraction of the bitumen from this source requires a larger input of energy relative to that required for conventional crude oil. Perhaps more significantly, the process also requires the use of fresh water and leaves behind large but temporary, tailings ponds.

Oil sand bitumen contains significant quantities of asphaltenes, which can form deposits in wells and pipelines, as well as insoluble nanosized aggregates under certain conditions.

Asphaltene components are useful as organic electronic materials, especially in the form of thin films, in organic electronic devices, such as optoelectronic devices, for example, photodiodes (e.g., photovoltaic cells), phototransistors, photomultipliers, integrated optical circuits, photoresistors, and the like.

Technology transfer

This technology is available for licensing, or for further development through a collaborative research agreement with NRC. The business opportunity may be referred to by its NRC ID: 12261.

Market applications

Photovoltaics, organic electronics, organic fabrication, thin films.

How it works

This patent provides a use of an asphaltene component as an organic electronic material.

Asphaltene components useful in the present invention preferably consist essentially of a component of native asphaltene. The asphaltene itself is preferably isolated from crude oil by precipitation with a C5 or higher alkane, preferably a C5-C8 alkane, for example pentanes, hexanes, heptanes, octanes or mixtures thereof. The asphaltene component preferably consists essentially of an aggregate of aryl components linked by alkyl chains. Monomers in the asphaltene component preferably have an average molecular weight of about 4000 g/mol or less. Within the asphaltene component, such asphaltene component monomers may dimerize or oligomerize through physical processes. Preferably, the asphaltene component consists essentially of an elastic textured component of asphaltene isolated from the asphaltene by gel permeation chromatography.

In particular, asphaltene component monomers isolated by gel permeation chromatography are not contained within void volume chloroform from two 4-foot columns packed with Bio-beads SX1 and a total volume of about 2×580 ml. The asphaltene component preferably comprises less than about 8% sulfur by weight based on total weight of the asphaltene component from Athabasca sources. However, it is recognized that asphaltenes originating from other regions may have a lower sulfur content.

Organic electronic materials comprising asphaltenes in accordance with the present invention are useful in the fabrication of electronic devices, for example photovoltaic cells, memory devices, computing devices and other electronic devices. Such organic electronic materials are especially useful in optoelectronic devices, for example, photodiodes (e.g., photovoltaic cells), phototransistors, photomultipliers, integrated optical circuits, photoresistors, and the like.

Thus, there is further provided an organic electronic device comprising a layer of electron-donating material in contact with a layer of electron-accepting material, one or both of the layers comprising a film of an asphaltene component.

In an organic electronic device, a junction is formed between the layers of electron-donating and electron-accepting materials, which permits the movement of electrons or holes upon exposure to electromagnetic radiation. This forms the basis on which the electronic device operates. The electron-donating and/or electron-accepting materials may comprise one or more other conductive organic materials. Such other conductive organic materials include, for example, pentacenes, poly(acetylene)s, poly(pyrrole)s, poly(thiophene)s (e.g., poly(3-alkylthiophenes)), polyanilines, polythiophenes, poly(p-phenylene sulfide), poly(p-phenylene vinylene)s, polyindole, polypyrene, polycarbazole, polyazulene, polyazepine, poly(fluorene)s and polynaphthalene.

In one illustrative embodiment of an organic electronic device, a photovoltaic cell is provided that comprises a first electrically-conductive layer, a second-electrically conductive layer, a layer of electron-donating material and a layer of electron-accepting material, the layers of electron-donating and electron-accepting materials forming a junction, and one or both of the electron-donating and electron-accepting layers comprising a film of an asphaltene component.

In the photovoltaic cell, the electrically conductive layers may comprise, for example, metallic material, transparent conductive materials, or combinations thereof. Transparent conductive materials are preferably transparent conductive oxides (TCO), for example indium-tin oxide (ITO), ZnO, ZnO:Al, SnO2 and SnO2:F. Metallic materials include, for example, gold, aluminum, silver, molybdenum, etc. The photovoltaic cell may further comprise one or more transparent substrates to provide protection for the layers and to permit easier handling of the cell. A transparent substrate may comprise, for example, glass, plastic, etc.

Fabricating an organic electronic device involves forming layers of the various components from thin films. Thin films may be formed using any suitable technique, for example, screen printing from a paste, evaporation, sputtering, spray deposition, pyrolysis deposition, vacuum deposition or coating from a sol-gel solution by using spin-coating, ink-jet printing or dip-coating. Films may be further processed, for example, by imprinting and/or sintering to impart further desired characteristics. The particular technique is dependent on the type of material involved.

Patent pending in the United States and Canada.


The organic electronic material is inexpensive and comes from a natural resource. No synthetic process is needed to fabricate the organic electronic material.


  • NRC file 12261: Patent pending in Canada and the US.


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Telephone: 780-641-1623

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